First a beautiful sher:
"Kahalwata he jo Tu, Kah deta whon mey wahi,
Kahne ko youn to bhala, meri jaban meri he"
(whatever God makes me say, I am saying, even though, my name will be used).
As a backdrop please always remember that at any time we can disappear or our lives change suddenly (due to some health-related event or accident). Afterwards, one can attend funeral services or cremations, or visit hospitals, these ideas derive from: can we not to do something when one is alive and healthy?
For me, the central premise of Bhakti is: God is everywhere, always. Are we prepared to unconditionally accept, without any "ifs", "buts", "perhaps", etc., this premise: God is everywhere, always? Unconditional acceptance of this premise has far reaching implications:
- If God is everywhere always, then there is nowhere God is not, and God is, has been, and will always be with me. Then it becomes very easy to let go of the past and remove a main cause of stress in our lives (too many thoughts related to past): Whatever wisdom God gave me to do at that time, I did!
Here are a few sentences from the 1999 book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma:
"... on an average day the average person runs about sixty thousand thoughts through his mind... ninety-five percent of those thoughts were the same as the ones you thought the day before... This is the tyranny of impoverished thinking. Those people who think the same thoughts every day, most of them negative, have fallen into bad mental habits. Rather than focusing on all the good in their lives and thinking of ways to make things even better, they are captives of their pasts..."
- Many of our fears go away when we unconditionally accept God is everywhere always, because then God is always with us! If we suffer from claustrophobia (dictionary meaning: an irrational fear of being in a confined or enclosed space, e.g., when we feel cramped up in an elevator or airplane), we can look around for a reason to be grateful ("I am breathing") and feel the presence of God with us!
- From God is everywhere always comes the idea that God is residing in my heart as well as in the hearts of those I deal with. Love, respect, sensitivity, and sharing follow naturally.
- When one is ill or confined or otherwise worried, one can feel that one is always in the company of God: the unlimited blessings of God are showering on me no matter where and how I am.
The important question then becomes how to lead our lives so that we do not forget this Omnipresence of God.
- Mystic Kabir says: Dukh Mein Simran Sab Kare, Sukh Mein Kare Na Koye; Jo Sukh Mein Simran Kare, Tau Dukh Kahe Ko Hoye (In anguish everyone prays to Him, in joy does none, To One who prays in happiness, how sorrow can come). The practical question then is how to become a person who can remember Him when one is happy?
- Meera says: Maro Janam Maran Ro Sathi, Thane Nahin Bisrun Din Rati (My Companion in life and death, I cannot forget You day or night). Again, how to acquire the attitude that even if we try, we do not forget God?
- Nanak talks about Ajapa Jap (remembrance of God without outwardly taking his name). How can we be in the state of Ajapa Jap?
- I vividly recall one of my Berkeley, California student days (1962-1965) when I was deeply moved by: "Kabira Sowat Kya Karo, Jago Japo Murari; Ek Din Aisa Sowana, Lambe Paon Pasari (Kabir says: why are you sleeping, wake up and take the name of God, a day will come when you will lie down with your legs stretched and will not get up).
Again, the question is how to take the name of God all the time?
One can quote many such lines, but in each case, the real practical issue is how to remember Him all the time?
My suggestion is: learn the art of feeling grateful for every little thing happening to you. That is all! If one can learn the art of being grateful for little things, then it will become very easy for one to remember Him constantly (even when one is in joy, as Kabir says above). I believe in keeping things extremely simple.
Sat Santokh Hove Aardaas
Taan Sun Sud Baha Ley Paas
The above verse from Guru Granth Sahib says it all. When the prayer is true (earnest) and said with contentment (santokh), it is heard. The word contentment does not imply resignation or becoming a lethargic fatalist. Santokh really means to be thankful always for what has been bestowed and regret not ever for what has not been bestowed. In essense, when applied in a work-a-day life, it means - whatever the situation - find a reason to Thank God. - Editor
My idea of gratitude is that in the worst of things which are happening to us, whatever have happened, if we can be aware that we are breathing - that the breath is coming, breath is going - and if we can just say a simple prayer of thanks - just a thank You for allowing me to breath. We are able to hear sounds, if you can say a simple thank You that we can hear sounds. One sees many shapes, colors, wind playing with the leaves, clouds, etc., can we say a simple thanks that we are able to see? Can we say a simple thank You when we eat the food: for our ability to taste, and to those who have kindly prepared the food for us? Can we say thanks that we are able to move, we walk, can we say thank You for that? One has a desire to itch or scratch, can we feel thankful that we have that much sensitivity that we can feel a desire to scratch? We lift our hands, there will come a time when we will not be able to lift our hand, can we feel grateful that we are able to do all these little things.
Thus, my request: please come up with your own reasons, using your own creativity, as to what I am thankful for. If one can do that, if one can develop an attitude of gratitude for little things, then if anything undesirable happens, at that time, one will look around and will be able to find something to be grateful for. Not only that, as this thinking develops, for any "bad" happening to us, one will be able to see that there are reasons for it. May be, through that happening, we are being taught something.
There is a very subtle connection between meditation and gratitude. To feel grateful for all the little things mentioned, first one has to be aware! I teach / share meditation techniques at many senior centers, private homes, etc., they are all about how to increase our moment-to-moment awareness. And when we are aware of little things, we will slowly become aware of all the things around us. So, for some of us, meditation is just first step (of awareness), and then it becomes easy to bring gratitude in.
So here, as an example of practice of gratitude, is my technique to go to sleep when one wakes up in the middle of the night. The normal tendency is usually to object: to feel bad that tomorrow I will have a bad day, I have to go to work, I will be sleepy all day, etc. I take it differently. First I say God thank You for waking me up, thank You for giving me this opportunity to look at Your world at night. I have seen Your world during the day, now let me experience it at night. So, first thing is total acceptance: no opposition as to why I am not going to sleep. And then, I say, let me do a listening meditation. What is listening meditation? I close my eyes, and I listen to whatever sounds are there. That is all, nothing more. No analysis, why the sounds are there? Of course, if I hear faucet dripping, I will go and close the faucet. But otherwise, there is no opposition. I just listen to the sounds. And, then one step further: when listening to the sounds, I feel and say, thank You for giving me that much peace in my heart that I can listen to these sounds (including the sound of silence in the dead of night). We walk outside, hear a bird chirping; many times while we walk, the bird will chirp, but lost in thoughts we will not hear that. But if we pay attention to the bird chirping, and at that time we can thank Him for giving us the ability to hear the chirping of the bird: thank You that I have that much peace at my heart that I can hear the bird chirping.
My appeal: kindly understand the "knack" of being aware and grateful one moment at a time, which will make as many moments of our day full of gratitude as possible, i.e., when we are in the now. It is given that one will miss many time (I often miss myself), but: (1) do not allow this idea to become a greed or a goal (a new stress) that I have to be aware, or grateful, all the time, and (2) do not feel that if I miss, I am a failure at practicing it. The most important thing is the understanding of this effortless concept. Then, as you go through your day, you will discover (see, hear, sense, feel) that there is no shortage of reasons to be aware and grateful at that moment! Once this understanding deepens, you will find that no effort is needed to be aware or grateful.
This is the meaning of Taoist Guru Chuang Tzu’s:
"Easy is right. Begin right and you are easy. Continue easy and you are right. The right way to go easy is to forget the right way and forget that the going is easy."